Creative multi-hyphenate Mario Ogle is stepping into very new shoes as co-owner and creative director of TWOBOP®. Founded in 2004 by Anthony Smith, TWOBOP was a beloved cultural mainstay in Cape Town streetwear with a niche but loyal following that made it a leader by the time the scene exploded between 2012 and 2017. After a few dormant seasons, a business sale, and a design reset, TWOBOP returns at midnight with the launch of the KETTANG, an heirloom jewellery design. An essentials-focused clothing capsule will arrive in multiple drops before the end of the year.
When Mario met the Corner Store
Ogle isn't originally from Cape Town, but quickly adopted its contemporary street culture as his own after moving there, which is how he first came across the brand and its founder. "I used to follow the Sol Sol Tumblr page... you know you just kind of get sucked into that whole internet wormhole of just like finding out what's cool and hot in South Africa and I guess that was my first introduction to the brand. I was sort of reintroduced to it when I actually relocated to Cape Town like six, seven years ago... The presence of the brand was just more prominent here, because it was made here and it was from here and and I guess it spoke largely to a Cape Town audience. My wife [Eden Toohey-Ogle]... we were friends back then — she actually worked for Corner Store."
Corner Store was a retail concept co-led by TWOBOP's Anthony Smith, Young And Lazy's Anees Petersen and Sol Sol's Matthew Kieser. With a communal creative project space in its loft, a CMT above that, and a burgeoning subculture on the streets around it, Corner Store became a Cape Town streetwear tribe clubhouse, and along with its founders, the subject of global praise from HYPEBEAST, Highsnobiety and more.
The Corner Store age officially ended mid-2018 amid management and finance challenges, with South Africa's notoriously harsh conditions for small, independent businesses also taking a toll. Under the same conditions and with its own issues, TWOBOP's progress slowed. Even after winning the 2018 Standard Bank Threads Accelerator Programme, the business didn't find the right levers to pull to reach a healthy pace of growth.
Around the same time, Mario & Eden's friendship spawned a strategic marketing agency, Msizi. "We always want to tell stories of our own, of our own people and people who look like us and we were just really just checking in on Anthony, because we hadn't really heard from the brand for like a year or two... It just so happened that he had been wanting to contact us." While they had been working on TFG (The Foschini Group) brand clients, it turned out TWOBOP had created a limited edition collection with one. At TFG's suggestion, Anthony enlisted Msizi's help with marketing it.
Later, in a virtual catch up after Smith's relocation to Vancouver, Mario & Eden pondered TWOBOP's fate and explored ways to continue the business relationship. They were taken by surprise when Anthony asked how they would feel about taking over the brand. "I personally have always kind of wanted to venture into the fashion & clothing side of things... this opportunity came in that was with a brand that already had street cred and it wasn't going to be from like, ground zero." The purchase was finalised in 2021 for an undisclosed sum, giving the Msizi founders a shared majority stake and naming them both directors, while making Smith a minority shareholder and moving him into an advisory role.
The challenges that led to the brand's stall were operational, and it's an area Mario plans to overhaul and keep a close eye on — cultural value on Instagram doesn't mean a healthy order volume. "For TWOBOP to last... we've got to go back to basics. We've got to go back to manufacturing, putting a mark up and selling at a profit, you know? How does that look? What is actually making us money?"
One key issue can be summed up as a stalled transition from starting to scaling — Smith may have worked as a one-man-band for a little too long, and growth suffered as a result. "The existing structures were there in terms of manufacturing and suppliers, but how do you scale the business? How do you actually make cash? How do you market the business? How do you actually build the brand into something that's beyond the Cornerstore?"
Ogle's answer to those questions is not a return to the familiar. TWOBOP was originally inspired by the bitty graphic style of the retro video games common at local corner shop arcades (as well as the adjacent skate culture) in the late '80s & early '90s. Its name comes from a colloquial South African term for the 20 cent coins once used to play them. Known for nostalgic prints of arcade game characters, corner store signage and other motifs on a canvas of streetwear's core silhouettes, the brand hasn't always had an identity as clear and distilled as its product. Now, in step with the original customer's matured tastes and disposable income levels, Ogle is fundamentally shifting the aesthetic direction and signature traits of both.
"I think we need to grow up, and I think we have grown up, the people who loved TWOBOP those 5, 6, 10 years ago now," says Ogle. "We're mature; we dress differently, we move differently... we see the world differently. We want to travel but we also want to show off to the rest of the world what we have here." From his perspective, growing up requires an impact-focused exercise in trimming excess across operations, storytelling, and product.
The refreshed offering will see TWOBOP act as an elevated reservoir for hyperlocal storytelling. "I think there's stories within TWOBOP that have not even been tapped into, not even been told yet, and just didn't even get the light of day just by how the brand has developed over the years and I think it's high time that the stories get told," says Ogle. "There's just so many great luxury fashion brands coming out of South Africa, but I just don't see street, I don't see something that's totally relatable to [our] culture."
The new TWOBOP's first product may fill that gap: the KETTANG, a Cuban Miami link chain with seasoned local and global cultural roots, designed to fit right into the longstanding coming-of-age traditions of its loyal community. Its pendant is a lookalike of the 1989-issued South African 20c coin still in circulation today, in a direct yet subtle nod to its arcade origins. "The development process has been much easier than apparel or clothing," says Ogle, as he had a crystal clear idea of what he wanted from the start. With his own graphic skills and the good fortune of finding a Woodstock-based supplier on Instagram in record time, the only speed bump was some hesitation on the material choice.
The unisex KETTANG sits firmly in the fine jewellery category, available in 9-carat solid gold (R20,000) and 925 sterling silver (R2000) aligned with the desire to safeguard and pass down heritage. "I realised actually I don't want any plating, because if we're treating this as like a family heirloom or something that we want to have for the rest of our lives, I'd like for it to be like a premium thing. The barrier to entry might be different to what people were expecting from the TWOBOP of the past, but I'm not expecting thousands of people to buy the chain. It's really a statement piece to solidify, or re-solidify ourselves as a heritage brand... what better way than to put it in a form that we can relate to and that's permanent and that you can pass down to your kid."
Clothing comes next, and sample development for the essentials range that will become the primary source of turnover is almost complete. "I'd like to get momentum by getting the basics right so that we can that we can scale... we need something that's trans-seasonal, that's going to be consistently on the shelves... something that people can access at all times that's going to be always on." Other basics to get right include building a supply chain that tells the same community empowerment story as the brand. To do that, Ogle's asking questions: "Are we using suppliers in Cape Town? Who's the person that owns the the CMT? Who's the machinist? Are they getting paid?"
Answers are uncompromising, except when it comes to fabric: local sourcing problems persist, dictating the collection's roll out which starts with classic tees. "We can get like a 240 gram, single jersey 100% cotton from a supplier in Cape Town... I'm starting there because that's what we can source here in South Africa and it's a lot easier to get than like, heavyweight French terry. So that's in production and I'm hoping to release it as soon as it's ready." Drops could begin as soon as the last week of September. "It's going to consist of your hoodies, your sweatshirt, sweatpants and your basic tee obviously, in cuts, proportions and material that are going to be uniquely TWOBOP."
The slow & steady approach suits the business' new direction. "I see TWOBOP a little bit more elevated in terms of my vision for 2022... elevated streetwear [that's] a little bit more unattainable, not in terms of positioning. I don't want to position it out of the market, like where people can't even afford it. But I do want to make it something special that people can want to attain and that has a different value."
The rebrand has been a difficult job to put a Rand value on, between the legal fees for the trademark transfer and the non billable man hours that have gone into everything from design to campaign videography. With encouragement from fellow entrepreneur and brand strategist Andy Fenner as well as brand designer extraordinaire Daniel Ting Chong — after both turned him down, offering their advice and faith that he could handle the branding himself instead — Mario set to work for months, whipping TWOBOP's brand identity into its new, future proof shape.
Ogle initially worried about his lack of design and retail experience in fashion, but what he & Eden have instead may work in their favour: a branding, marketing and storytelling background that includes work in fashion, music, film and more. "We have first-class strategists, marketing people, production people, all for free between myself and Eden. I think we can sort of uniquely tell stories and fulfil the marketing column of the business ... when you look at other competitors, it's like, oh, they have to pay for all of that if they want, like, a really good strategist on board, or if they want designers or people with our sort of skill sets."
Streetwear success hinges on compelling storytelling and the ability to inspire and gather community around it, which won't be a problem for them. "I think he [Anthony] saw the brand's potential and what it needed, our business acumen and our USP being that we are marketing people, we tell good stories... there were a lot of people who are like great at fashion, designers, and he could have said, 'Oh, here's the baton, I'm handing it over to you.' And so in hindsight, I guess I see what he saw in us."
The new brand identity will be completely unrecognisable to longtime followers and fans, presenting a challenge for Ogle. He has to win over an existing, deeply invested community that may not connect with his new direction. "Having to take over a brand that's got such rich cultural heritage... everybody seems to like and feel as if they own the brand, because it's been part of their lives for so long. So like any little like movement or change seems like, 'oh, you're messing up our things.'"
Ogle's strategy is an all-in bet that they'll buy into the values behind his design for the brand's future, one that goes beyond operational excellence and richer stories to global legacy. He's looking for a path that would make TWOBOP the next Daily Paper, Patta or Aimé Leon Dore, and says the answer doesn't lie in niche cultural relevance only experienced in pop up parties. "I'm doing this to enrich and give back to the community whose moms have been working in the factory for decades with kind of nothing to show for [it]... How do we make this into a world brand that can contribute back to Woodstock and then Cape Town and then South Africa, Africa and then the world?"
All images: Supplied, TWOBOP®